Ready Player One (2018)

The problem with Ready Player One is that it is, essentially, four different stories, and the film-makers concentrated on the wrong one.

rp1aStory one: Its 2045, and its a dystopian world of economic collapse and (presumably) environmental disaster. People seem to be mostly poor and living in over-crowded shanty-towns, and unemployed. Everyone -and I mean, seemingly everyone– seems to spend their waking hours in a virtual world called The Oasis. Reality is so desperately depressing that escape is everything, even if its only virtual. But that, pretty much, is all we know about 2045. We don’t know any details of the social-political climate, who’s in charge, who’s paying the bills. The company behind The Oasis is the richest on the planet, worth trillions, but its not clear how it makes any money, because The Oasis seems to be free. The film doesn’t not examine why everyone feels the need to escape into a virtual world or how that might mirror our own current preoccupation with our ‘escapes’ be it films or television or video games. We see nothing of any counter-culture that might perceive The Oasis as a threat or blight on society and the world, or if humanity escaping to this virtual haven means it has given up on reality and we are all doomed. The Oasis is there, and everybody’s playing it- that is the world of 2045.

rp1bStory two-  genius recluse James Halliday (Mark Rylance), in the mid 2020’s creates a virtual world, The Oasis, that in a bleak and downward-spiraling world becomes a bright haven for a desperate humanity. Halliday was a solitary child who grew up a secluded life in the 1980s and whose only comfort was predominantly the 80’s pop-culture of that decade, and so The Oasis is dominated by that culture. Somehow this obsession seduces everyone who experiences The Oasis. It becomes a 1980s Heaven.

READY PLAYER ONEBut Halliday, although the richest man on Earth at this point, is deeply unhappy, sinking into morose regret for what he considers is his biggest mistake- not having the courage to have a relationship with the one love of his life- KIra, who ended up marrying his one-time business colleague, Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg). His obsession in creating a virtual world seems to have stopped him from living properly in the real world, and he only realizes in his old age that reality is better than virtuality. Perhaps it finally dawns on him that his invention overtaking the world is detrimental, humanity obsessed by his virtual world and not dealing with reality’s problems. But instead of shutting down The Oasis or sharing his wisdom, he instead creates a magic virtual quest to find an Easter Egg hidden within The Oasis, involving three magic keys and clues and riddles that er, might do something like making someone fabulously rich. The he dies.

rp1d.pngStory three- Nolan Sorrento during the mid-2020s works as a lab/office assistant to Halliday and Morrow at Gregarious Games, the company that makes The Oasis. A lowly assistant who fetches the coffee, somehow this downtrodden rat becomes the CEO of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), the second biggest company in the world and rival to Gregarious Games, as if his whole life has been one hellbent on revenge over his old bosses who didn’t care for his coffee. Seriously, his rise through the ranks to lead a rival company sounds a better story than anything else in Ready Player One. I want to see how he did it, because he’s patently a jerk and an idiot, but at least it’d be interesting to see the snake on his corporate climb and see the trail of misery in his wake.

rp1eStory four- uber-geek dead-end orphan Wade Watts spends all his time in The Oasis, his virtual alter-ego Parzifal trying to decipher the clues/riddles that will lead to the keys to Halliday’s fabled Easter Egg. He befriends Art3mis, a beautiful girl-avatar who fortunately is also a  girl in the real-world (and hey, incredibly pretty too although she doesn’t think so and she secretly seeks self-validation and the love of a good guy so you can guess where that goes) but she is also cool at videogames etc and together with his own group of teenage virtual super-heroes they go on a great adventure in The Oasis and try to thwart the attempts of IOI to secure the Egg and control of The Oasis for its own nefarious corporate ends. BIt like Harry Potter for videogame geeks.

So they went with story four and shoved the rest into dull exposition/skimpy background details. Maybe they went with the right choice. It looks pretty.

The thing is, all the attention seems to be on The Oasis and its spectacular CGI effects and all the nods to pop-culture references (there’s Robocop! look there’s Valley Forge from Silent Running! Look there’s a pod from 2001 hiding in the background! He’s driving a goddam Delorean! etc etc) and its really very boring surprisingly quickly. And as you might expect, its so full of crazy shit being thrown on-screen its hard most of the time to tell whats going on. I was surprised because I thought Spielberg would have demonstrated more control and keyed things back, but he seems too enamored of his CGI toys that he gets quite carried away. Bit like how Pete Jackson lost his shit on The Hobbit films.

Meanwhile in the real world there’s possibly a more interesting story or stories to tell but this isn’t that movie. This is Tron x100 (even though, ironically,I can’t recall an actual Tron reference, funnily enough) full of cartoony extravaganzas that made me yearn, funnily enough, for the Matrix films.

So its not a bad film. Its just pretty dumb. But I guess its just that kind of dumb spectacular blockbuster entertainment with one-dimensional characters and simple plot-lines and a comfortably-predictable story. But this is Spielberg. He made Minority Report, Close Encounters, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark– as far as pop-culture/ sci-fi/fantasy movies he’s much better than this. Maybe I should cut this film some slack instead of it bugging me for what it isn’t.

But deep down, I wish Joe Dante had made this movie. My God it would have been bloody incredible, I’m sure. Crazy, irreverent, clever. Everything that this film really isn’t, unfortunately.

(But it looks nice).

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Valentines Day Nazi Massacre

se4Sniper Elite 4 is out today- most couples will be out on romantic dates tonight so it seems rather incongruous that I’ll be having a fine time shooting nazi scum instead. The Sniper Elite series with its x-ray cam death-shots with exploding tesicles and shattered eye-sockets is the very definition of gamings guilty pleasures- its nothing like real war, or a quality triple-A game; it’s more like an exploitation  video nasty from the ‘eighties, a Grindhouse video game, and nothing wrong with that.

Well, ok, there won’t be much time on the Playstation this evening to be honest, but the bizarre choice to release a game like this on Valentines Day of all days had me thinking. So here’s a list of Valentine’s Day movies. There may be a few titles that aren’t really movies at all. Can you spot them, or perhaps suggest some of your own?

Shirley Valentine

My Bloody Valentine

The Caveman’s Valentine

My Fat Valentine

Private Valentine: Blonde & Dangerous

Blue Valentine

Vampire Valentina

I Hate Valentines Day

Kiss Of The Valentine

The St.Valentine’s Day Massacre

Valentine of Terror

Valentino: The Last Emperor

Maid Valentine

The Valentine’s Night Horror

Surrogate Valentine

Lost Valentine

My Funny Valentine

Blind Valentine

The Valentine Lovers

 

Searching for Paradise in No Mans Sky

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So I’m searching for Paradise, the Perfect World. I haven’t found it yet.

No Man’s Sky has received much criticism since its release. Certainly some of it seems deserved but I myself have thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. As someone who grew up in the early ‘eighties playing the original Elite, enthralled by its wire-frame graphics, No Mans Sky is the fantastic realisation of the impossible game I dreamed of one day playing. Young gamers today seem to expect more- more focused gameplay, more goals, more complexity; as if they need being told what to do, where to go. Just travelling around enjoying the view isn’t enough for them. They need a purpose.

 

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Sometimes the journey is the thing. Or the incredible alien skyline that just has me caught trance-like for minutes at a time, leaving me cautious of moving on. Its daft- it’s a computer fantasy, a videogame fabrication, but sometimes I just stop and take in the view. Sometimes I’ve been ‘walking’ on an alien world, just wandering around and enjoying the vistas and the sounds and I’ve been reluctant to leave. As if it were a real place.

Mostly this because you can never really ever go back to it. When you leave a world behind you, you can’t really go back (or at least, it would be incredibly hard to find it again). Impossible alien worlds, procedurally generated in such a way that, while some may seem similar, all are really quite unique. Maybe nobody else in the world playing NMS has seen the things I have,  and the sights once left behind are lost forever. So I save screen-captures like these here, like postcards of my fantastic journey.And then I move on. There’s always another world, another incredible sky.

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So yeah, these are some of my postcards from my journey. Postcards from The Future. From cosmic realms in reality forbidden me by where I am, and the epoch I am living in. Maybe one day humans will be able to explore the deepest reaches of space and see the sights that I can only dream of. This is the nearest I will ever get, other than watching some Hollywood space epic. Of course NMS is inspired by the sci-fi art of 1950s/1970s sci-fi paperback covers, its images full of impossibly saturated colours and fanciful alien creatures and spaceships and outposts. Things I dreamed of when I was a kid. The real thing won’t look like this stuff, but it’s no less valid for that.

 

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As for all those  frustrated gamers who have dropped this game like a stone.  Well, it’s clearly not the game they were hoping for (or hyped up to be). Whats wrong with just exploring, just enjoying the view? Imagine if someone did this kind of game set in the Star Wars universe, just so you could fly around and ‘look’ at Bespin, Yavin etc. Just explore around, not having to do anything (I did that with the Nostromo bonus pack in the Alien: Isolation game; I just walked around those rooms and corridors, swept up in the feeling of being ‘inside’ that virtual space so familiar from the film).

I guess many gamers would argue that wouldn’t be a ‘game’ at all, without having anything to do. I suppose they are right but to me just looking is the doing, just seeing something new. Of course some worlds are more interesting and visually rewarding than others. Its surprising how even the most strange vision could be mundane compared to others.

No Man's Sky_20160903105505.jpgSo I expect I’m one of the few who are playing the game just for the experience of it (if you are to believe the internet, I’m one of the few actually still playing it at all, if the stats are to be believed). I’m not racing to the galactic core or grinding for cash to buy a bigger spaceship. I’m just travelling around, looking for the Perfect World. I don’t know what it will look like, but I think I will know it when I’ve found it. It may not be the end of my journey, but it will be so visually arresting that I may well spend a few days or weeks just walking around it, or flying around it.

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So I’m searching for Paradise, the Perfect World. I haven’t found it yet.Maybe I never will. But it’s fun looking. And if I do find it, well, it’ll be posted here.

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Ender’s Game (2013)

end12016.33: Enders Game (Network Airing, HD)

Youngsters playing videogames save humanity from Alien menace.

Well, thats essentially it. The youngsters think they are playing a videogame simulating an attack on alien planet, when its actually really happening. They win the game, annihilating the aliens, only to find out -gosh!- that gigantic space armada in the game was the real thing obeying their instructions. Yes, whenever they lost ships hundreds of real people got killed but, hey, they won the game! Earth is saved!

This film really is that stupid. I mean, you have the fate of humanity at stake. You have a vast armada of huge battleships and attack fighters, thousands of military personnel. And you have an orbiting school for ‘gifted’ teens to find a kid to put in charge of the bloody lot. I don’t mean ‘gifted’ as per special powers such as the mutants of X-Men or super-intellects. I mean a bunch of teens who maybe passed their GCSEs a bit early. It’s utterly insane.

Incredulous, I watched this film convinced there would be a twist (other than that final painful one- literally game over, kid, you won the war-that left a huge WTF expression on my face that lingered for hours) but there isn’t one. Unless, well, I guess I could mention the painful coda/twist that suggests that, even though they attacked Earth fifty years ago, the aliens might not have been quite so evil after all so our teen hero has to fly off to make amends. I mean, what?

When the best thing about a film is its excessive CGI and green screen there is something rather wrong. It starts a little like The Hunger Games, reluctant teen becomes hero (in this case, it’s a male rather than a female) but it is a pale shadow of that series. I’ve read that the film is based on a series of books written by Orson Scott Card but I can only hope that most of the best material was lost in the screenplay, because the film does the book/s no favours at all. They ploughed $100 million into this turkey- I can in no way fathom what they saw in the screenplay that merited that kind of attention and outlay. Sure, teen-angst adventures were all the rage post-Harry Potter and Hunger Games but really, this tedious film is really poor and wide of the mark.

And anyone surprised/impressed that Harrison Ford thought the script for Blade Runner 2 was one of the very best he’d read and so good he subsequently signed up to star in it, well, its time to be rather worried. If Ford thought Ender’s Game was worthy of him, then really we need to be very cautious about BR2. I swear he looks half-asleep in much of this. What was he thinking (i.e. how much was his pay packet)? Whatever it was, he returns the favour with one of his worst performances that I have ever seen. I’ve seen better performances by trees, he’s that wooden.

It’s a harrowing film. Avoid.

 

 

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

edge1The cover-art of the Blu-ray (and I presume the DVD, although I haven’t seen it) betrays the problem that this film seems to have had- is it Edge of Tomorrow or Live, Die, Repeat?  When a film’s identity, its very title, seems to have an air of doubt about it, you know the marketing boys are in trouble. Here’s a film that is a very enjoyable action blockbuster with a bit of intelligence and wit about it starring one of the biggest male stars on the planet, with favourable reviews and word-of-mouth, and yet it still somehow fails to live up to box-office expectations. As a product, its fine, so is the problem simply that it wasn’t sold very well?

The success of movies is always something of a crap-shoot. Some films have ‘hit’ all over them and make huge box-office, others have ‘hit’ all over them and sink without trace. The frustrating thing for film-fans is often the injustice of it. Good films fail (John Carter, Blade Runner etc) and bad movies (take your pick, but any Transformers movie is a good start) make obscene amounts of money. There just isn’t any reason to it. Some films capture the public’s attention, others don’t. Maybe the public are a tasteless ignorant horde of brain-dead morons who are suckers for loud spectacle.

Here’s the thing. They are usually very young. Its demographics. Going to the cinema is mostly a young person’s activity. Most people going to the cinema these days are a different generation to the one that grew up with Tom Cruise as a major star. For this generation, the names Sylvester Stallone or Arnold  Swarzenegger or Bruce Willis or, indeed, Tom Cruise, don’t carry the same street-cred or air of celluloid importance as they did (and still do) for, say my own age group (slipping towards age 50) or even  the age group before, now hitting their thirties. Is the problem simply that Tom Cruise’s status is beginning to wane, his name not quite able alone to sell an original IP with its own attendant problems regards marketing? I am always one to bemoan the number of superhero movies and remakes and sequels being made, but the perceived failure of movies like Edge of Tomorrow kind of reinforces the practices of Hollywood, the films that we usually get.

egde2I’m not going to suggest that Edge of Tomorrow is a great film. Its good, but nothing extraordinary. But of all this past summer’s ‘blockbusters’ that I have so far seen, its likely the best, and possibly the most, dare I say it, original (although that last point is with a few caveats, as it eventually seems to descend into a rehash of a Matrix movie by the end).

Its a weird film though. The basic premise is just plain daft. Aliens have invaded Earth and have taken over Europe and its up to the Brits to save the day. Its World War Two and the Normandy invasion all over again. Only in the near future. I admit that whole thing bugged me a bit; if this thing had been a kind of Steampunk alternate World War Two with advanced tech then that would have been fine, albeit too high-brow for the general film-going public (the irony is not lost on me considering how the film’s box-office turned out). As it is, it just feels wrong, the central proposition (even before we get to the time travel stuff) already on shaky ground. It may have worked against the Germans in the 1940s, but how do you keep a huge invasion force secret in the Information Age, particularly against space-faring aliens who can surely see what you are up to across the Channel?  How do us Brits, with our cut-down military and debt-ridden economy even marshal those invasion forces? How come the Yanks don’t just run the show? That said, while the central ideas may have been dubious, the presentation is quite convincing and impressive. The battle scenes are very good indeed, with some excellent action choreography, and it looks very cool- Saving Private Ryan in Exo-skeletons!

I have to admit I enjoyed the proposition that Tom Cruise is a coward more intent on selling this war than actually fighting in it. Reluctant heroes are much more interesting and it gives Cruise something a bit left-field for him. Once the action sets in he’s as capable as ever, but its certainly his quieter moments that I enjoyed the most. Meanwhile, Emily Blunt is something of a revelation. If this film doesn’t serve as some kind of audition for her eventual starring role in a Marvel Studios movie, well, there is no justice. She is just great as an action heroine, which somehow came as quite a surprise. She and Cruise also share some chemistry too. Its great casting.

edge3The funny thing about Edge of Tomorrow is that it has the structure of a video-game. Its really weird. Cruise re-lives the same day (the same video-game level) and changes his actions to get further and further into that level, each death causing a reset to that same checkpoint… it even looks like a FPS. Its like an alternate Tron or something. In some ways its the most authentic movie based on a video-game ever (except that, far as I know, it isn’t based on any video-game). Damned thing is, you’d think that would sell well. Go figure.

Its certainly a good movie and one I very much enjoyed. When it finished, my first thought was that I’d like to watch it again (rather ironic considering its own repetitive structure), which is not something I often think when watching new films these days.Sure its not perfect, and in truth its box-office wasn’t really all that bad (it was perceived as performing below expectations but it was certainly no Lone Ranger/John Carter failure). I think some longer character beats, and perhaps some examination on the impact reliving all  those events so many times would have on Cruise’s character psychologically…  but maybe that would have been a different movie.

Alien: Isolation

alienisolation4.0Its not often  that I comment on videogames on this blog (have I ever?), but certainly in this case there is an obvious film-related element. I’ve been playing this game since its launch on PS4 and have to say its pretty extraordinary- particularly because I’m such a fan of the original ALIEN. Its also the most intense and scary videogame I have ever played, and I’ve been  playing these things since the heyday of the old Atari VCS. Its so intense infact that I’ve only been able to play it in short spells of an hour or so and with gaps of a few days inbetween. Seriously. The damn thing is freaking me out. Its been a few weeks now and I’m hardly a third of the way through (currently on level 5 in the medical area being stalked by the titular character)- I’m absolutely adoring it but treating it with caution. My nerves are frazzled. I talk about it at work and start feeling myself tensing up. Best videogame based on a movie? Most likely.

Maybe I’m playing it differently to many. Some of the reviews were so negative I regretted my pre-order (ALIEN games have a fairly bad history as videogames, to be frank, the best I can remember dating back to the ZX Spectrum) but thank goodness that I didn’t. Games reviewers be damned, this thing is an experience, indeed,  for a fan of ALIEN, this is such a pinch-me-am-I-dreaming experience its almost bizarre. Its everything I ever hoped an ALIEN-based game could be. The art direction, graphics, sound effects and use of the Jerry Goldsmith score is so perfect, so accomplished, it just takes my breath away. Much of the time if I think I’m free from the Alien hunting me or the attention of the Company Androids menacing the station, I just wonder around taking in the experience, almost in a Virtual Reality way (if ever they get one of those VR headset thingies adapted for this game watch out).

They have even modelled the original Nostromo sets for some DLC- I’ve spent all my time with that just wandering around the mess-room and the bridge (oh, thats where Ripley sits! There’s Ash’s workstation!) and the medical bay, like I’m stepping into the movie. It really is extraordinary. In the words of Philip K Dick, I keep asking ‘How is this possible?’Its like being able to walk into Ron Cobb’s production drawings and paintings, starring at the glass cubicles containing the space suits, the magazines scattered around… its quite an achievement. If they had a mode that dropped the Alien and the other characters in which I could just wander around the station exploring its nooks and crannies, I’d be the happiest guy in the world.

Has Ridley Scott seen this, I wonder?